India’s Pursuit for Permanent Membership in the UNSC

A Multi-Layered Strategy is Needed to Assume the Highly Coveted Membership

India’s Pursuit for Permanent Membership in the UNSC
India’s Pursuit for Permanent Membership in the UNSC

India’s membership to the United Nations is one of the fundamentals of its foreign policy. India is a founding member of the United Nations, and it signed the ‘Declaration by the United Nations’ on 1st January 1942 at Washington before her independence from the British Empire. It had also participated in the historic United Nations Conference of International Organization held at San Francisco between 25th April and 26th June 1945. Independent India had made investment at the United Nations in developing universal peace and security at the height of Cold War by playing a vital part towards eliminating the reason of war and conflict. India remained at the forefront amid the turbulent years of the United Nation’s battle against apartheid and colonialism, its struggle towards putting an end to arms race and global disarmament and also towards developing a more equitable international economic order.


A permanent membership in the UNSC is a symbol of supremacy. It provides an upper hand in the World undertakings. Though India possesses all the credentials to be on the global high table, it is every time rewarded with only a non-permanent seat. This paper comprehensively analyses why India should get a permanent seat in the UNSC, what it means to be a permanent member and non-permanent member, on what circumstances was India offered permanent membership during 1950s and why India did not accepted them.

Becoming a permanent member of the UNSC opens up the door for supremacy in the world undertakings. However, India has not yet been that fortunate of becoming a permanent member of the Council. In June 2020, India was overwhelmingly elected as the non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for a two-year term commencing from January 2021. India secured 184 votes out of 192 casted in the elections for the five non-permanent seats of the Security Council. Along with India, Mexico, Norway Ireland and Kenya also secured their seats in the Council by winning the election. The Union government of India termed this victory as one of its “best performances” and insinuated that India will enhance global action against terrorism and promote multilateral solution for the COVID-19 crisis. In the past, India has served as the non-permanent member of the UNSC for seven terms – 1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92 and 2011-12.

The UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was established in 1945 with its head quarter in New York. It is one of the six main organs of the UN and its primary objective is maintaining global peace and security. The five other organs are the General Assembly, the Secretariat, the Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council and the International Court of Justice. It comprises of five permanent members and ten non-permanent members. The five permanent members, commonly known as P-5 nations are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.

The non-permanent members are elected every year for a tenure of two years. The pattern of electing the non-permanent members of the council was adopted at the 18th session of the UNSC in 1963 where the General Assembly decided to distribute the ten seats among different regions of the world. Thus, five seats were allotted for the Asian and African countries (2:3 ratio), two for Latin American countries, one for eastern European countries and two for Western European and Other Countries.

The UNSC has the power to intervene and provide solutions to security crisis anywhere in the world by appointing special envoys, mediation process, sending a UN mission or appealing the UN Secretary General resolve the dispute. Furthermore, depending on the seriousness of the circumstances, it can issue ceasefire directives, send peacekeeping military observers and forces, impose financial penalties and sanctions, arms embargo and travel bans.

The UNSC provides a veto power to it’s permanent members. This veto power allows the P-5 nations to block adoption of any resolution. On the other hand, instead of veto power, the non-permanent members have ‘collective right of veto’. To get a resolution adopted, despite having the support of all P-5 nations, it has to be simultaneously passed by at least seven non-permanent members.

The opportunity of assuming the presidency of the council is given to both the permanent members of the UNSC as well as to the non-permanent members. Every month, according to alphabetical order the presidency of the council is determined. The Presidential role allows the respective nation to decide the theme and content of the debate that can draw attention to critical issues for each member state in matters of global peace and security.

1950s’ Permanent Member Offer

India was offered not once but twice the seat of permanent member in the UNSC. United States and Soviet Union, both had pushed India to join the Security Council in 1950 and 1955 respectively. The offers were made in the early stages of the Cold War when the two superpowers were in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that threatened nuclear catastrophe. Both the offers were declined by then Prime Minister of India – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The offer of permanent seat in the Council was made to India at the cost of China’s seat. In other words, it was not merely an offer but a vague feeler for exploring India’s reaction to such a contingency. The actual intention of the US behind the offer was to put a bait to entice India into an alliance with the West against Sino-Soviet bloc and lure it into becoming an associate of the ‘defence’ organisations it was establishing in Asia to contain presumed “Communist expansionism”.

Recognizing Washington’s interest in using India for its own advantage, India refused considering the American feeler. At that time, accepting the American bait would have meant enduring enmity with China. The Soviet Union, closest ally of China at that time, would also have voted any such move as it would have required amendment of the UN Charter which is a subject to the veto of the permanent members. Impact of this would have soured the India-Soviet Union relation and made it rather impossible to re-create the required trust needed to establish a strong military and political relationship with Moscow which became indispensable once the US and Pakistan entered into an alliance.

The 1955 offer for permanent seat at UNSC from Soviet Union was also declined by Nehru as it indicated towards testing India’s views rather than being an ‘offer’ as by then Bulganin had already agreed with Nehru that it was not the right time for pushing a new permanent member. Moreover, accepting the ‘offer’ would also mean snatching away China’s seat from the Council, which would again deteriorate the Sino-India relations. Considering the facts that China was India’s neighbour and also a regional power, the newly independent India was not ready to trade Sino-India relationship for a seat in the UNSC. Declining the 1950 offer had also helped India maintaining a good relationship with the Soviet Union which later in 1971 paid immense dividends to the country during the India-Bangladesh war.

Rationale Behind India’s Claim Info 1
Rationale Behind India’s Claim

Rationale Behind India’s Claim

In pursuance of its claims for a permanent seat in the Council, India draws attention to its history of consistent multilateral and international posture of fraternity and cooperation in all matters with relation to the UN. Apart from this, population of India, GDP, economic potential, territorial size, political system, cultural diversity, civilization legacy and its significant and enormous contributions in various activities of the UN including peacekeeping operations eminently qualifies India to be a permanent member. Being the second most populous country in the world with one of the fastest growing economy, demography and country’s GDP growth rate themselves remain the primary reason for India being among the permanent nations. In addition to these, India’s status of being a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) makes it a natural claimant of the permanent seat with the existing permanent members who are also NWS. Moreover, India has also affirmed its capacity and willingness to shoulder the functions and responsibilities of permanent member.

Another significant historic reason for India’s quest for a permanent seat at the Security Council is safeguarding of national interest at crucial diplomatic junctures when the organ starts considering contentious border issues especially that of Kashmir. The permanent member status will help New Delhi to assume the mantle of international peace & security decision making. Further, being a member of the UN’s premier powerful organization would provide the country leverage required for expanding its global geo-economic and geo-political clout. This would act as an equaliser to its rival and an emerging hegemon in Asia – China.

Perusal of Diplomatic Strategies

As India expands its regional and global footprints in diverse sectors such as culture, economics and science & technology, its international profile and capabilities are also rising. This pushes India to shift its global position to a rule determiner from merely accepting constrained roles. In order to assume the highly coveted permanent seat in the UNSC, multi-layered strategy has been adopted by India. New Delhi’s strategy of ‘revisionist integration’ into the Council comprises of two modules – first, maximising the support in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and secondly, minimising resistance in the UNSC. India’s leadership aspect in various Global South forums including G77 and NAM (Non-aligned movement) helps in garnering the required tally in the UNGA. Simultaneously, thriving strategic partnership of New Delhi with P-5 nations, including the 2005 historic nuclear deal with the United States and ingeminating historic ties with Russia and mostly importantly while considering the recent events in the backdrop of Sino-India border dispute, a ray of hope emerges for India’s ambition for a permanent seat in the council.

However, inclusion of India among the permanent members of the UN Security Council can only be possible if a reformation is adopted. In the past debates, Russia and the United States – two of the permanent members had inflexibly opposed alteration of the veto power. On the other hand, though France and UK had extended their support for bringing structural reforms in the UN, China maintained an ambiguous position. Thus, the debates had witnessed a division of opinion among the permanent members. Among the five permanent members, it could be said that three were standing against Council reforms which would entail an alteration in the present status. The obvious reason being the current status that the P-5 nations enjoy. The Council provides these nations the pre-eminence on matters concerning global peace and security. It is needless to say that any alteration in the present structure will reduce their say in the global politics.

India, Brazil, Germany and Japan together form the G4 group that is fighting to negotiate reform in the Council. In this respect, India says that the world expects the largest democracies and major locomotives of the global economy to shoulder global responsibility and prove their commitment to global peace, security and prosperity. Thus, considering the capacities and the willingness to administer major responsibilities in respect of maintaining the global peace & security on one side and recognising the fact the world has drastically changed and developed since the formation of the UNSC in the previous century, enlargement of the Security Council is of utmost need. Additionally, India also became a part of L-69 (a group of 42 developing countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia) and member of Friends on UN Security Council Reform which was created to accelerate the process of negotiations of Council reforms.

The Challenges

However, there still remain a few challenges that need to be overcome for fulfilling India’s aspiration for a permanent seat in the Council. Firstly, India lacks government resources necessary for multilateral diplomacy; secondly, lack of engagements with the normative facets of various UNSC issues; thirdly, excessive reliance on entitlement as the essence of India’s claim for a permanent seat, at the cost of more hard-nosed realpolitik bargaining in the UN.

The Challenges Info 2
The Challenges

Moreover, India being a member of the G4 group, options for negotiating a seat for herself as a great power gets reduced as regional politics would circumscribe the attempts made by the G4 for winning permanent seat for all as a group. A movement named ‘Uniting for Consensus’, informally known as ‘coffee club’, was developed by a group of 10-11 members, including our western neighbour, to oppose the expansion of permanent seats in UN Security Council. Majority of the members of this group are small or middle-sized nations who stand against a larger regional power’s efforts of securing a permanent seat in the Council. Thus, the key objective of the club remains countering the bids for permanent seats propounded by the G4 nations and calling for consensus before reaching any conclusion on the structure of the Security Council. The prime members of the club include Italy, Pakistan, Australia, Spain, Canada, Argentina and South Korea. As Pakistan stands against India’s bid for a seat in the Council, similarly Argentina opposes Brazil’s bid, Spain and Italy opposes Germany’s bid, Australia opposes Japan’s bid and South Korea and Canada opposes any developing countries that are dependent on their aid.

Pakistan’s Reasons for Opposing

Pakistan opposes India because for several causes. Pakistan recognises that if India wins a permanent seat in the council, it will undermine all its effort of engaging UNSC into the Jammu & Kashmir issue. Intervention of UNSC in J&K is considered by Islamabad as a victory for its attempt in making the issue as an internationally recognised dispute. Additionally, if India becomes a permanent member, New Delhi can very easily keep demand for Islamabad giving up its nuclear weapons and signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This will bring nuclear program of Pakistan under greater scrutiny. Apart from this Islamabad is well aware that will definitely push for an compelling regime for containing terror financing. Thus, by all means, a permanent seat for India in the UN Security Council is a menace to Islamabad’s diplomatic interests and core security.

A Window of Opportunity

India has emerged as a rising power which legitimises its claim to a seat in the changing architecture of the global governance which also includes the UN Security Council. It possesses all the credentials for seeking a prestigious place on the global table. As India has been elected as a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council for next two year, it must use this as an opportunity to reaffirm its credentials for grabbing a permanent seat in Council. Its tenure will start at a critical juncture when the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the economies of the whole world. Winning a seat at this juncture is an opportunity that India needs to use in its advantage to provide a leadership and a new orientation for a reformed multilateral framework and be the voice for all those nations who are not a member in the council. It must work with all the member nations in promoting resilience, equity and above all global peace and security. It must prioritise in bringing new opportunities for progress, reforming multilateral systems, effectively responding to global terrorism, comprehensively approaching for global peace and security and develop technology with a human touch. Successfully shouldering these responsibilities will strengthen the claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.


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